Growing up, I thought I had a pretty good idea what being a woman meant. All the women around me or at least the women I looked up to had a lot in common – they had successful careers, they were married, they were mothers, and they were involved in their communities. Looking back, I don’t know how the hell they did it – some days I come home and honestly am grateful that the only person I really have to cater to is myself. It sounds selfish but it’s true. Yesterday, I started my day at 5:30 AM, after 3.5 hours of sleep, and after just managing to get in a workout at 9:30 PM, I didn’t get home till 11 PM. Most days aren’t like this but then I think of my mother who while married and working, obtained all her education to the PhD level, and raised five kids, I feel a little put to shame. HOW DID YOU DO IT MUM? I WANT TO KNOW THE SECRET!
Then I think of all the different types of women that I’ve come to know in my early adulthood who have made an impression on me – some of them have been unmarried, some without kids, some at the start of their careers and some at the top of their careers; some enjoying meaningful work as homemakers, some young, some old, and some, somewhere in between. Many of them have different perspectives on their womanhood I am sure, and have different philosophies on how to go about living a healthy, happy, life. So I find myself wondering: What exactly does it mean to be a woman?
Being a woman is more than biology, and maybe it even goes beyond critically looking at gender as a social construct. Of course, there are a plethora of women (and men) who challenge me on this, and that’s fine, they’re entitled. But in my construction of reality, I choose to hold on to womanhood as sometimes similar but sometimes different from manhood. But with so many different representations of womanhood, who gets to decide what constitutes womanhood and what it means to be a woman? I think one of the unfortunate traits of human nature is that we feel a need to categorize people and this is evident in how we categorize women. We limit them and we say that she is, “that kind of woman,” and that kind of woman is categorized as one who is traditional or modern or a feminist or not a feminist or liberal or conservative or a virgin or a whore. The list goes on.
To me, being a woman, in the first place is being a human and recognizing the complexity that comes with all of that. Too often, we make people the sum-total of one characteristic or value that they may embody, and apart from the fact that people, believe it or not, are dynamic, they’re also complicated. Being a woman is a recognition of some of the weaknesses that you may be ascribed from birth and the uphill battle you might face in a less than perfect world. But it’s also recognizing the strengths that come with womanhood – the strength of your heart, your mind, and your body, which differ from woman to woman, which differ culturally. Being a woman means being strong, because you’ll find that your womanhood will need that strength, and when you let it, sometimes that strength will even find you. When you’re a woman, you take responsibility for your life and for what you want from that life. And you might be afraid, but you go beyond that fear to define your womanhood, and not allow somebody else to define it for you.
I enjoy being a woman, and I enjoy being the woman I am becoming. I especially enjoy challenging the notion that I can be put in a box. Some of it admittedly is directly from socio-economic and intellectual privilege and some of it is self-created. I am sassy and sarcastic but simultaneously sweet; confident most times but painfully shy and awkward at other times. I am athletic and intelligent and I like to look good. I’ll talk about the big game last night and why Kobe is still better than Lebron one moment, and make an argument about how modern science is essentially a Western hegemonic construct the next. The moment after that, I want to know if my black blazer and blue dress goes well with my mocha riding boots and if I can wear that look to church and then out to get a drink later. I am pursuing life as an academic and an activist, and I want to serve my community the best way I can. I want to be married and have many children, all the while maintaining my identities as child of God, a daughter, a sister, and a good friend. But I don’t think that any of this makes me a more special kind of woman or better than any other woman; it’s just MY womanhood. And though it may need some work, for the most part, and until further notice, I love it.